When Marketing Automation Goes Bad


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If you’re like me, you’re inundated with emails from marketers. This makes for a less-than-positive customer experience with companies in many cases. Marketing automation makes it easier (and cheaper) than ever to send communications with offers. However, it’s a lesson in quantity versus quality, and the old adage “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Take, for example, my recent experience with an unknown-to-me company. I received an email from Steven, who asked for 15 minutes of my time.

“I realize that this is unsolicited—sometimes it’s a necessary evil—but I think there is very big upside for you, so I’d like to start by explaining myself,” he said. “Dave, I’m promising you a high integrity conversation and I think you’re going to be genuinely intrigued by what I have to share with you.”

Ahhhh…what? Although I was keen to have a “high integrity conversation,” I had no idea what he was talking about and, of course, I blew him off. Satisfied that he would go away, I went back to deleting the other spam in my inbox. A few days later, however, I got an email from Steven’s “assistance,” Sean with the original note from Steven. I strongly suspected Sean was Steven writing under a pseudonym, but nevertheless I ignored them again.

Soon I received yet another note from Sean requesting time with a “right hand person” whom “I can trust.” He and Steven had decided my non-responsiveness was due to me being “heads down right now.” Nice of them to let me off the hook.

Impressed by their tenacity, I could no longer resist and sent a short missive:

“I was wondering what transformation processes you could leverage to make our organization more synergistic?”

I thought my nonsensical doublespeak would result in SteveSean leaving me alone. Not so—it was like chumming the businessspeak water. They came back at me with a vengeance. I was tempted to keep the subterfuge going for a while, but thought it unethical to waste their time, even though they didn’t seem to mind wasting mine. I have since created a filter that quickly dispenses with StevenSean and others.

While poking fun at the situation, this is not an isolated incident and it’s a commentary on the sad state of online marketing. I get hundreds of emails like this a week and you probably do too. This was one of many actual businesses trying to generate sales. While I can’t fault them for that, I do fault them for how they go about it. Let’s review what went wrong.

  • First, they had no prior relationship with me, nor any connection whatsoever. Perhaps they should use a reference via Linkedin or the AMA rather than relying on a list service to spam thousands, if not millions. If I am so “special,” why not call me? That would take some work and in the big game of marketing automation, is just not efficient.
  • Second, I had no idea what they were selling or how it would make my life better. What exactly did they want? It seemed mysterious and clandestine, or perhaps just vague and uninteresting. What would I get in return for spending 15 minutes with them? Couldn’t they tell me more up front?
  • Third, the back-and-forth banter between Steven and Sean came across as disingenuous. I don’t know them and they don’t know me. How do they know I was “heads down”? Also, do they assume I work with untrustworthy people?
  • Finally, StevenSean biting on the obvious nonsense I kicked back reeked of desperation. I imagine him looking at his screen and saying, “I have a live lead here, time to go and close it!”

Like I said, they are trying to get sales and I understand and applaud that. Sadly, the approach they are taking, and the powerful automation tools underlying the campaign, will continue to turn people off rather than engage them. It’s ineffective and probably has the net effect of eroding brand equity rather than building it.

Happily, it doesn’t have to be this way. What if we only use relationships, however weak, to connect with others? An introduction or referral, perhaps? Using that connection, maybe you could be more personal with your prospective client. Wouldn’t it be better to get to know them a bit so you could actually qualify their needs rather than an automated “fire and forget”?

Imagine a world where you gave something in return for someone’s attention. It’s not a new idea; free samples have been around forever. Even in the research world it’s common practice to provide steeply discounted or free consulting to secure the real work. You have to give something to get something.

These are not new ideas, but they can sometimes be challenging to implement. However, if we don’t take the time to regard the marketing experience as part of the holistic customer experience, we are going to waste a lot of time and effort…and we will never get to that transformational synergistic optimization we are all craving.

What do you think?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Fish, Ph.D.

Dave is the founder of CuriosityCX, an insights and advisory consultancy for Customer Experience. Formerly he was CMO for MaritzCX, now an InMoment company. He has 25+ years of applied experience in understanding consumer behavior consulting with Global 50 companies. Dave has held several executive positions at the Mars Agency, Engine Group, J.D. Power and Associates, Toyota Motor North America, and American Savings Bank. He teaches at the Sam Walton School of Business at the University of Arkansas. He is the author of "The Customer Experience Field Guide" available on Amazon and BookLogix.com.


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